Gopal Lahiri (2021), “Alleys are Filled with Future Alphabets”,

ISBN: 978-81-945865-8-6, New Delhi: Rubric Publishing, pp. 137. Price: Rs. 275; $ 25.

A Review by Aneek Chatterjee

                     Gopal Lahiri’s latest collection of poems “Alleys are Filled with Future Alphabets has many tastes, the reader would love to savor. The anthology has seven sections, — each based on separate themes.  These sections lead to seven different ‘alleys’, the reader would feel excited to trudge along, because these alleys are filled with words that carry light, darkness, splendor and astonishment. Carl Sandburg once said, “Poetry is an echo asking a shadow dancer to be a partner”. Lahiri’s poems make us partners in the journey through the alleys, — a journey we enjoy and cherish in the long run. This collection has 102 poems in its seven ‘alleys’ named as ‘Voyages In’, ‘Voyages Out’, ‘Cityscape Silhouettes’, ‘Macrocosm’, ‘Haiku Series and Micro Poems’, ‘Travel Diaries’ and ‘Pandemic and Resilience’. Each alley is filled with alphabets, words and expressions that resonate and linger in our minds. “Stow the studs, the hungry face of the wind / screams under the leafless tree” (Time Capsule). These words from the first section of poems themed ‘Voyages In’ make us hungry for more, like the ‘face of the wind’ in the poem.

                     In Lahiri’s poems, raindrops slip out ‘like whispers from the parapet’ (Raindrops) and ‘the silent instrument plays unheard music’ (Picasso’s Guitar). The unheard music also emanates from different pages of the anthology and reverberates in our brains, our senses. This music is sometimes melodious; sometimes melancholic; but the music partners us all along our journey. “Years are sifting through the narrow lanes, / all my fingers still lie on the pulse of the days, / searching the roots in silence.” (Displaced). This music of melancholy really haunts us. Lahiri is also an excellent craftsman when using metaphors. Consider these lines from the ‘Voyages Out’ section:

“Memories hang himself in the shadow

silence is tender like crushed petals,

as if a child climbing in mother’s lap,

strong winds translate the twilight.” (Latent Fire)  

and  

this one from ‘Cityscape Silhouettes’ section:

“The molecules are crisp with the arrival of local train

Breaths still unspent, the time has folded them like blankets.

The hairs still curl, quivering, swallowing flies,

Stems of colours in frozen eyes” (Kolkata Scene – I).     

                        For me and for any ardent reader, the language of poetry is important. It is an essential way of communication; the lonely bridge on a turbulent river. Gopal Lahiri, through his long association with the world of poetry, has mastered this language. He has been able to build a confident bridge with his readers. This is evident in several poems of the book: “Streets are deserted, edges of the sidewalk / searching for the hidden anguish” (City Underbelly); or, “every word is visible in darkness, / of exile years. / Each door carries its own story in my village” (Diary Page); or, “I do not belong to April / yet you lean over and look at my grey eyes. / All those orange yellow flowers touch noses / descend on my wounded heart” (Connection) ; or “The real showstopper is now the drunken breeze” (Connection). These lines convey the image of a matured poet who is comfortable in the artistry of language, — an essential quality for an author.

                     ‘Haiku Series and Micro Poems’ section of the anthology has added more strength to this collection. Lahiri is a deft practitioner of Haiku, the Japanese poetry form now adopted globally, where the whole world, the real and the surreal, is portrayed in brevity. This section too, like other ‘alleys’, uncovers the poet’s mind, his joy and ecstasy, agony and gloom, his conscious and subconscious, in a splendid way. Every little piece, from ‘Haiku Series 1’ to ‘Haiku Series 5’ is a journey of the poet to the known and the unknown world, and we, the readers, accompany. “Evening sky / antholizing the / tiny stars” (Haiku Series 1); or, “laptops sending / handshakes / from kitchen table” (Haiku Series 2); or, “my morning tea / turns green / with age” (Haiku Series 3); and “beetles exchange honeydew / ants giggle” (Haiku Series 4); and “mother earth / bleeding / molten lavas” (Haiku Series 5) take us to canvasses we know and we dream to colour. The poem ‘Fragments’ in this section, nests deep in mind: “night is a jotting pad – / stars write half lyrics, / they don’t inhabit the world” (Fragments).  

                    In the ‘Travel Diaries’ section, the poet visits salty seas; misty clouds; deep forests; green ramparts; and silent lakes; as he visits love in Bentota and peace of mind in Mount Agung. “Watching your nimble fingers / pushing the reeds of the piano, / raw emotions / sink in yourself, / just as real, as visceral” (Bentota # Love). “How then would come sleep in silence? / staring past the jittery surface, / the starry night danced my sorrows away / leaving me alone on the lacustrine bed.” (Mount Agung). And the following lines unravel the eternal truth we often forget: “Hunger we cannot see, we cannot hear, / the fishermen whisper.” (Fisherman Cove). A poet and his creations are also products of time. Can any poet, writing at this point of time, ignore the pandemic and the resilience of human beings to fight the pandemic? Expectedly, Lahiri devotes a whole section of the anthology to ‘Pandemic and Resilience’. And some of the poems in this section are quite adorable. Consider these lines:

“There are no stories written on the wall.

Endless rows of beds awaiting bodies

like a science fiction movie” (Transition)

and 

“Absence of humans is stitched with twilight colour

light rain is dripping into the troughs

the insects are rustling in the groves

sparrows are now at work in the skylight

sending silent signals of life” (Soft Hum).

Human resilience always dwells in hope: “The night is beautiful now, so the faces of everyone / the sound of applause rejects those memories of grief ” (Recovery).   

                        Alleys are Filled with Future Alphabets ultimately provides hope, — hope for the future of poetry; hope for human survival. As poet John Thieme observed in the ‘Postface’: “The collection’s title also points towards just such a future resolution and this emphasis mirrors the activity of the individual poems as they enter the alleys of future alphabets”. A lovely cover art by poet Jharna Sanyal makes the collection more attractive. This collection will be remembered as one of Lahiri’s notable works. Thanks to Rubric Publishing for bringing out the book, and for a brilliant production. In the long run, the reader has to echo the words of poet Sanjeev Sethi: “it is a meld of experience and expertise that is drawing you to a distilled poetic mien. Imbibe it !”.  Get a copy of this wonderful anthology dear poetry readers, and ‘imbibe it’.    

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About the Reviewer:

Aneek Chatterjee is a poet and academic from Kolkata, India. He has been published in reputed literary magazines and poetry anthologies across the globe. He authored 14 books including three poetry collections and a novel. His third poetry collection titled “of Ashes and Persiflage” (New Delhi and Kolkata, Hawakal) came out in November, 2020. Chatterjee has a Ph.D. in International Relations; and has been teaching in leading Indian and foreign universities. He was a Fulbright Visiting faculty at the University of Virginia, USA and a recipient of the prestigious ICCR Chair to teach abroad. His poetry has been archived at Yale University. 

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